The Indian Council of Medical Research on Tuesday advised removing the need for an RT-PCR test for inter-state travel to reduce the load on diagnostic laboratories testing for covid-19 amid the sharp surge seen in covid-19 cases.
“The need for RT-PCR test in healthy individuals undertaking inter-state domestic travel may be completely removed to reduce the load on laboratories," the government’s flagship bio-medical research agency said in its advisory.
In a departure from its earlier advisories, the agency also advised scaling up testing using the less accurate rapid antigen tests (RAT) to meet the overwhelming demand. While RAT can detect covid-19 in 15-30 minutes, much more quickly as compared to RT-PCR, it is less accurate as compared to the latter. However, considering its short-turnaround time, it offers a huge advantage of quick detection of cases and opportunity to isolate and treat them early for curbing transmission, ICMR said.
While people testing positive by RAT should be treated immediately, individuals testing negative by RAT but showing covid-19 symptoms should be linked with RT-PCR test facility and, in the meantime, be urged to follow home isolation and treatment, the government agency said.
The agency also advised states to augment RT-PCR testing through mobile testing laboratories, which are now available on the government e-marketplace (GeM) portal.
ICMR said that laboratories are facing challenges to meet expected testing targets due to extraordinary case load in the second wave and also because their staff is getting infected with the disease during this period.
The country’s overall positive rate is currently 20%, four times the target rate of 5% or less as the RT-PCR testing has been unable to match up to the surge in covid-19 cases.
On Friday, India’s new covid-19 cases crossed a record 400,000 as the second wave continued to wreck havoc across the country. The numbers have since reduced, with India reporting over 350,000 on Monday. As of 8.40 pm on Tuesday, the number of new covid-19 cases stood at 223,759.
In its advisory on Tuesday, the ICMR also advised that no testing is required for covid-19 recovered individuals at the time of hospital discharge in accordance with the policy of Union health ministry, and that RT-PCR test must not be repeated in any individual who has tested positive once either by rapid antigen test or RT-PCR.
The government agency advised that RAT may be allowed at all available government and private healthcare facilities, with dedicated booths also set up in cities, towns and villages to offer testing to people.
“Testing booths may be set up at multiple locations including healthcare facilities, RWA, offices, schools, colleges, community centres and other available vacant spaces. These booths should be operational on a 24X7 basis to improve access and availability of testing," ICMR said, adding that drive-through RAT testing facilities can also be created at convenient locations.